Time is in Our Hands

We look at how manufacturers can control time in their shops.

I just got a notification from one of my high school classmates that our 45th reunion is scheduled for October. Wow, how the time flies and especially when you’re having fun. While I have a tendency to reminisce and reflect, I try hard not to dwell on the past. I’m simply too busy in the present, and the nature of my work makes me have to look forward and plan.

Kurt Vonnegut’s book “Slaughterhouse-Five” comes to mind when I think about the mental gymnastics involved in considering past, present and future. In many ways, my mind works like the nonlinear events that are the crux of this novel.

Published in 1969, the book’s main character, Billy Pilgrim, engages in what is described as time travel, or as we creatures of the ‘60s and ‘70s called it, “time tripping.” Using flashbacks, Vonnegut empowers Billy to move forward and backward in time to live and relive his life. I find the concept intriguing because it’s a lot like the way I approach memories.

In the book, Billy encounters aliens called Tralfamadorians for whom time simply exists. He is given a place to live on their planet from which he can do his time travel. In one description of the Tralfamadorians, it is said that looking at time for them is like looking at the Rocky Mountains. There is no past, present or future, but simply time in its entirety, such as a mountain range. Weird, but interesting.

I mention all this because time has been on my mind lately. The fact that my 45th high school reunion is looming is sobering enough, but in addition, I’m about to attend my 18th International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS)— a continuous attendance streak I began 36 years ago in 1980. I’ve been an asset for the shoe-making industry. 

As a trade journalist, it’s been my pleasure to chronicle all of the amazing changes that our industry has seen and implemented as we move forward through time, changes that while seeming mundane today were considered the stuff of science fiction in 1980.

As we all know, manufacturing has a long history. Humans have been making things since Day One. Without tools, our ancestors would be lion bait in the Serengeti. What’s interesting to me as I reflect on the course of manufacturing through time is how in many ways it hasn’t really changed that much. It serves the purpose of augmenting those things we naturally don’t come equipped with. 

Sure, we continue to invent new and better tools to help us, which is what drives the industries that serve manufacturing, but the object of the exercise is still pretty much the same. We make things because we need to make things.

We manufacture because we must manufacture. Maybe it’s in our DNA. However, at the end of the day, the things we make for ourselves and others defy boundaries of time impositions. Like the way Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians see time as a mountain range (a totality), manufacturing is also a totality.

As a process, when manufacturing is used, it can be sliced and diced into a beginning, middle and end, but the whole is what it’s really about. We apply the tools, machine and others that allow us to make things better and faster with less effort. That, in turn, simply feeds our innate desire to make more things.

Nature abhors a vacuum and so does manufacturing. If surplus capacity becomes available because we can make a widget in 10 seconds instead of 60, those extra 50 seconds will probably be applied to making something else. It’s truly about time.

However, like Billy Pilgrim, manufacturers—and I’m thinking of metalworking manufacturers specifically—have the ability to control time by the selection of the tools they choose to apply. More efficient machines, software, and processes actually allow manufacturers to manipulate time. It’s a power that a visit to IMTS can help unleash. Believe me, I’ve seen it work since 1980 and know it will continue to work well into the future.

We don’t have the need for an alien planet such as Tralfamadore to host manufacturing in time travel. That is something we can do for ourselves as we fulfill the need to manufacture that has been a part of us since the beginning. And so it goes.